Tuesday 20 March 2012

2 Peter - why the apologetics won't fly

Following Tim's comments on the earlier 2 Peter posting, maybe it would be helpful to briefly revisit the issues.

2 Peter is pseudonymous.  That's not in question.  Whoever wrote it, it wasn't Peter.  The fingerprints of forgery and/or fiction are all over it.

2 Peter was admitted to the canon with difficulty.  The problem was recognized long ago, but conveniently sidelined and ultimately ignored.  The 2008 edition of the evangelical NIV Study Bible, no friend of biblical criticism, notes that "it was not ascribed to Peter until Origen's time (185-253), and he seems to reflect some doubt concerning it.  Eusebius (265-340) placed it among the questioned books, though he admits that most accept it as from Peter." 

2 Peter claims to be written by Peter.  The writer explicitly says so: 1 From Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ.  And a few verses later he claims to have been tweeting at the Transfiguration: 16 We didn’t repeat crafty myths when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary, we witnessed his majesty with our own eyes. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when a voice came to him from the magnificent glory, saying, “This is my dearly loved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.

2 Peter is still claimed for Peter by many commentators and 'authorities'. Evangelical sources generally nod toward the difficulties, and then airbrush them away with comforting coos of reassurance.  No dear reader, worry not your silly little head about such things for we can indeed explain it away at a stretch, given a large enough rubber band.  Thus the NIV Study Bible, the awful NLT Study Bible, the Orthodox Study Bible...  In fact 2 Peter makes a great litmus test when you're thinking of acquiring a Study Bible. 

2 Peter as a creative piece of canonical fiction is modern construct.  If I understand Tim's position, this is his view.  Yes, 2 Peter is fictive, but that's okay.  All we need to do is grasp the subtleties of genre and the problem disappears.  Tim isn't alone, of course, in taking this position.
Many scholars believe the letter was written some years after Peter's death, by someone who wrote in his name.  This was an accepted practice in ancient timesThe references to Peter... would have been understood by the original readers as literary devices used in this type of writing. (Augsburg Fortress Lutheran Study Bible.)
Convinced?  Not really.  Who exactly were "the original readers"?  In a largely pre-literate society I'd suggest the best term would be "original hearers", and that by and large they were sucked right in.  It's a tad easier to buy the genre defence with Jonah, for example, and even the apocalypticism of Daniel.  Fair enough.  But the Epistles
If the people who forged the New Testament letters of, say, Peter and Paul had "no intention to decieve" and did "not in fact" deceive anyone, we again are left with the problem of why everyone (for many, many centuries) was in fact deceived.  Bart Ehrman, Forged, p.126.
And where is the evidence that the early church indeed regarded 2 Peter as a trendy piece of inspired fiction?  Such did exist - the much loved Shepherd of Hermas for example, and the marvelously inventive Acts of Paul (and Thecla).  But did either make the canonical cut?  And was it really "an accepted practice in ancient times"? 

2 Peter is a forgery, and forgeries were condemned in the ancient world.  Bart Ehrman devotes a full chapter in his book Forged to all the various excuses that have been hauled out to justify or explain away pseudonymous writings.  One of the slickest is called, with an appropriate nod to academic jargon, "reactualizing the tradition", the brainchild of David Meade.  Ehrman's response is well worth reading in full.  Bald claims like those in the AF Lutheran Study Bible are quickly put to the sword; there is little or no evidence to back up such sweeping assertions.
They state it as a fact.  And why do they think it's a fact?  For most New Testament scholars it is thought to be a fact because, well, so many New Testament scholars have said so!  But ask someone who makes this claim what her ancient source of information is or what ancient philosopher actually states that this was a common practice.  More often than not you'll be met with a blank stare.  Bart Ehrman, Forged, p.130.
There is another problem here too.  If 2 Peter is pseudonymous and fictive, but it says what we need it to say, then it's all hunky dory.  If the Acts of Paul and Thecla is pseudonymous and fictive, but it says things we don't like (perhaps a strong female character portrayed in the strapping Thecla), then it's another matter entirely. 

There's a useful summary in Ehrman's The New Testament: An Historical Introduction.  Forgery was commonplace in the ancient world, and it did have it's legitimate place as a classroom exercise in rhetorics.  There were lots of attempts to lard up the canon with such documents (3 Corinthians anyone?)  Some, like 2 Peter, got through anyway.  Despite the pious finessing of the apologists, forgery was almost universally condemned at the time.  And why is it that those scholars who would sooner wash their mouths out with soap and water than talk about forgeries in the New Testament, usually have no such compunction when it comes to so labelling documents outside the New Testament.

Frankly, even with truckloads of both sophistication and sophistry, it's a mess. 


  1. How about G-Mark: The greatest, most audacious, most successful Historical Fraud ever penned by man.

  2. @Minimalist,

    Not sure that Mark was written as a historical fraud originally. There is the possibility that Mark originally was a Jewish parable condemning the Jewish authority for being too quick in condemning Messianic claimants.

    In their haste to please the Romans, the Jewish authority might, just might, condemn the real McCoy and bring God's wrath upon them all.

  3. G-Mark (and by extension all gospels)is such fraud It will leave you reeling. He fooled the world. It's the biggest con job in history. So clever. Total fiction. Not even a kernel of elemental truth.

    One man changed the world--not Jesus but Mark!

  4. Minimalist,

    Even though you know it's a fraud, perhaps you should embrace it because it will shed light on your inner soul and help you get in touch with the divine within you.

    That's the kind of "advice" I've been getting from believers, LOL.

  5. I'm starting to see some problems the scholars see now.

    "From Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ..We didn’t repeat CRAFTY MYTHS when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ"

    Why would 'Peter' be trying to historicize JC above the level of "myth"? Shouldn't there have already been quite a buzz in the community after this "powerful coming" (miracles, cures, public trial, execution, resurrections, earthquake)?

  6. When I was a non-believer, the thing which troubled me most was that I couldn't prove the alleged fraudulence of the Bible, the alleged mythical origins of Jesus or any of the other supposed roots or supports for non-belief beyond reasonable doubt. It's why I always preferred the "agnostic" label.

    I think it is very interesting indeed that if you examine forms of government, law, or behavioral code devised by mankind, the ones universally considered to be the best will generally always figuratively "spell check" using the Mosaic law or the New Covenant of Jesus.


  7. The Mosaic law and the New Covenant of Jesus have nothing in them that is not in many other ancient codes of law. Like all the others, they are a reflection of the morality of their era. All of them are primitive, barbaric and brutal as compared to modern standards of right and wrong.

    The Bible laws condone slavery, they treat women as property, they condone genocide and they condone torture. Concepts like all men having equal rights, freedom of speech and freedom of religion never crossed the minds of the bible authors. Jesus himself talks of people being "beaten with many stripes" as a punishment.

    No, your bible does not contain such perfect laws as you like to imagine it does. It contains primitive, barbaric laws that are reflective of the mindsets of its writers.

  8. Two more comments on the Biker Bob post:

    1. There's no need to prove non-belief in something. A lack of evidence is sufficient for not believing something.

    2. The assertion that the bible laws and codes of conduct are equivalent with "the ones universally considered to be the best" is preposterous. Universally? Really? Where is your evidence?

  9. When I was an agnostic or atheist, I only accepted as evidence things that were written in stone, ie the geological record, some archaeology, and if I trusted history, it had to be written by secular historians.

    However, these days, I realize that the histories of many diverse cultures of antiquity were usually written with some sort of religious beliefs (and nationalism) influencing them.
    You could even make the argument that some of these religious influences caused historians to be committed to telling the truth.

    All of these issues were carefully obscured and clouded for those of us who took part in WCG. A couple of years ago, I got sick and tired of the Armstrongites' cherry picking research. Partially inspired by Jared Olar, I invested the time to read the complete works of Josephus, Eusebius, and as many of the writings of the early church (antenicene) fathers as were accessible to me. Some of the second generation of teachers had been personally trained by a couple of the original disciples of Jesus, and passing mention is made of their names in the NT.

    On finding out about Dr. James Tabor through Gavin, I also ordered and read "The Jesus Dynasty". I read treatises on the Dead Sea Scrolls (oldest and most complete surviving manuscripts of the OT, bought a Catholic Bible and read the Apocrypha, read much of the Pseudoepigrapha, and many of the Gnostic NT books which did not make the canon. This stuff constitutes a veritable mountain, the mother lode.

    I've witnessed strange thinking amongst some former WCG people. There are topics which are disputed amongst knowledgeable scholars, such as the topic of the alleged Jesus-Mithra connection (ten years ago, it was popular to state that Jesus was actually Appolonius of Tyanna). As they were taught in WCG, these folks continued to cherry pick. Read one book and tell everyone not to worry about Jesus because He was really Mithra. What these folks don't share is that this is by no means a finished matter amongst scholars. When writing their book reports, no mention is made of Dr. Manfred Claus, a noted scholar who holds the opposite opinion.

    I believe we must all do our own due diligence. I've seen too many people join various choirs (sometimes polar opposites) based on some very shallow research that a third party did and has reported upon. It was not only in WCG that people carefully picked facts to support what they wanted to believe! It is rare to find an individual whose research and experiences have cause his beliefs to reverse, and whose life has changed.

    As for barbarisms in the Bible, in a high percentages of the cases, you'll find that man, and human emotions were the modifier, and not in a good way. Problem is, it's been many years since some even opened a Bible, so it's become easy to distort the exact circumstances such as genocides for cultures widely practicing infanticide, or torture meted out in punishment for those who initiated the torture. Also, slavery in Hebrew culture had a completely different connotation from the types of slavery we experienced in colonial history.
    Jesus went against cultural stereotypes in His dealing with women, and prevented the Pharisees from punishing people guilty of breaking the law of Moses. But, then, how quickly people forget!


  10. Bob, We agree on some things.

    (1) I agree slavery in Hebrew culture had a completely different connotation from the types of slavery we experienced in colonial history.

    (2) I agree barbarisms in the Bible are due to man not God.

    (3) I agree that one side can "cherry pick" as well as the other, and indeed that's what I did in my examples.

    (4) I agree in some cases Jesus is reported to have gone against societal norms.

    Now, my qualifiers:

    (1) just because slavery was not as bad doesn't mean it was good. A slave was still property. A Hebrew still had the right to beat a slave or even to kill him. If a loving God truly wrote the Bible, he would not have endorsed slavery. This was a perfect chance for God to tell his chosen people that they were not to partake in this ungodly custom, but he did not. This tells me these sections were not written by a God, but were written by men, who of course saw nothing wrong with this custom.

    (2)Similar point. If a loving God truly wrote the Bible, he would not have included the barbarisms. If it were written by men, on the other hand, it would probably read just about the way it actually does.

    (3) An honest reading of the Bible shows that it has some very good and positive sections, but it also has and some very repulsive sections. It seems to have been written by good men and bad men and everything in between. It varies widely in quality and content from one section to another. If the Bible were truly a special set of writings inspired by a superior being, one would expect the good parts, but certainly not the ungodly parts.

    (4) Depending upon which gospel one reads, Jesus took various attitudes on various subjects. Luke was written from a woman's perspective, hence it has a pro-woman slant. Consistent with the rest of the Bible, the gospels show Jesus teaching very good things, and the gospels show Jesus teaching really bad things, and almost everything in betwee.

    Perhaps I overstated the negative side of the Bible in an effort to counter-balance your pro-Bible slant. My main point is that the Bible is clearly not god-inspired, nor is it infallible nor a useful guide to modern living. It is simply reflective of the customs and norms of the men who wrote it (and later edited it) - nothing more and nothing less.

  11. Skeptic,

    One viewpoint at which scholars have arrived is that at least amongst Hebrews, people often voluntarily became slaves for various reasons. It almost seems to have been a creative way to get out of debt or avoid homelessness or becoming a burden to family. And, in a way, such slaves' plight was not unlike that of women. Involuntary slaves were taken from amongst those conquered in the wars against Gentile nations as the promised land was being brought under the control of the tribes of Israel. This is probably where the majority of slave abuse came into play. Even today in 2012, Goyim are treated by a different set of standards by some Jews than are fellow Jews. My Jewish friends treated me as a Jew when I was a WCG member because I kept the sabbath and dietary laws.

    The gospels had a wide variety of approaches, and were targeted to diverse audiences. Basically, Luke the physician was Paul's (apostle to the Gentiles) apologist, while some scholars believe John Mark was Peter's. Matthew, Mark, and Luke obviously have some commonality in source material, where John is seen as having written later, possibly to add details and color missing from the others.

    To me, a book on citizenship, or a self-improvement book should outline both positive results based on correct application, and repulsive negative results, or consequences from misapplication.
    Some examples in the Bible which depict people as making mistakes illustrate God's love and forgiveness. Some of these forgiven activities were pretty bad, too!

    Not everybody reacted as I did, but after 1975, I just never really gave the Bible a chance. I saw it as having been the impliment of our spiritual rape, and quite frankly, it really disgusted me, and I would have liked for it to be stamped out. Oddly enough, when I first began to read it again, it's because I had learned that the Apocrypha or Deuterocannonicals had been part of the Septuagint of the first century, felt as if we'd been deprived of reading them, and so purchased a Catholic Bible (I am not Catholic) for the specific purpose of enjoying previously forbidden fruit. I was impressed with explanations in some of the footnotes, and concurrently with some other attitude changes in my life, softened up to reading the rest of the book. I don't consider the Bible to be a perfect document, but I also realize that I had not given it a fair or non-prejudiced chance. I do believe that in spite of the imperfections, we can find what is necessary to satisfy our spiritual needs.


  12. Bob,

    I appreciate the fact that you wrote back in more detail. I can see that after leaving WCG you've learned many of the same things about the bible that I have learned. I suspect that if we were to sit down and talk over a cup of coffee, there is much we would agree upon.

    It seems to me, however, that there is one major area where we disagree: whether or not the bible is god-inspired. Am I right about this? Are you of the belief that the bible is perfect and infallible and every word is inspired by God?

  13. I think its pretty clear that both 1st and 2nd Peter are spurious. Peter wouldn't talk about predestination -- the word predestination is in the intro, so Peter no writy.

    But, of course, I also don't think that Paul wrote Romans or Galatians. Justin Marty no mention -- Seems to me Marcion wrote them and the Catholics only accepted them in 170 or so, and of course heavily interpolated them.

    Even at that, Marcion's Romans didn't have Romans 9, and Catholics at that time weren't predestinarians, so obviously between Marcionite Romans and Catholic Romans there had to have been a Valentinian Romans (eek!)

    Not much is left that can be said to have been written by who the church says it was, if anything can.

  14. I am a believer (although sort of a doubting Thomas), and I have been wishing for years that somebody would simply remove 2nd Peter from the canon. I think that the only reasons nobody has ever tried are 1) it could lead to a slippery slope, 2) Trinitarians need 2nd Peter 1:1 as a proof text for orthodoxy.